November 08, 2009
The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel
The Toronto Star
Ilaria Dagnini Brey
You know that sense of personal loss you get when you're paging through a monograph on a favourite artist, and come upon a grainy old black-and-white photo of a painting with the legend, "lost or destroyed during World War II"? If you're grateful there aren't more of those moments, you can thank a long-forgotten army corps called the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section (MFAA).
"Monuments Men" for short, they were better known to their fellow soldiers as "Venus Fixers."
In Italy, they operated under the Allied Control Commission; in northern Europe, under the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories, or AMGOT. Impatient combat commanders soon turned the acronym into "Aged Military Gentlemen on Tour" because, in the beginning, Monuments Men were middle-aged art experts yanked from flagship universities. You might recognize the name of Frederick Hartt, author of a still standard history of Renaissance art; or culture maven and New York City Ballet founder Lincoln Kirstein, then a 38-year-old private first class.